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Roll out robust programmes to address gaps in mental health

By Editorial | October 10th 2020

The Covid-19 global pandemic continues highlighting the need to address gaps in Kenya’s public healthcare systems. 

More than ever, Kenya requires robust healthcare solutions to save lives even when the coronavirus is long gone.

Having borne the brunt of corona, the need to recast our priorities by combining short-term necessities with long-term targets cannot be gainsaid. There are hitherto forgotten causes of preventable deaths that call for urgent attention.

Poor mental health has, for instance, resulted in many preventable deaths or diminished quality of life for thousands of Kenyans. As the world marks the Mental Health Day today, it is worrying that 75 per cent of Kenyans have no access to mental healthcare yet at least 25 per cent of outpatients and 40 per cent of inpatients in different health facilities, suffer mental-related illnesses

The theme of this year’s day calls for increased investment in mental health infrastructure. In Kenya, however, only 0.01 per cent of the total expenditure is invested in mental health. 

In a family of five, there is a high possibility that one of them has a mental illness, and 30 per cent of people currently admitted to hospitals have a mental illness. Still, psychiatrists say there are many such cases that go undiagnosed and the victims are subjected to inhumane treatment.

A report released in July by the national task force on mental health paints a grim picture. The team mandated by President Uhuru Kenyatta on Madaraka Day of last year to examine and guide on a solution to increased suicides and violence across the country, established that depression had become a common phenomenon. 

To avert this health time bomb, we urge the government to fund more counsellors and training of school personnel and families to better address needs of people with mental health challenges. Left unattended, mental illness can be terribly harmful to an individual and their family. 

Similarly, employers and institutions of learning should invest more time and resources in monitoring and facilitating the mental well-being of workers and learners. It is equally important to create a support system that will help people diagnosed with mental disorders, access medication and deal with the side effects. Also, more needs to be done to reduce stigma faced by mental health patients.

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